Is It Heartburn or Acid Reflux?

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Common Triggers of Reflux

Eating too much fat or too little, eating too close to bedtime, drinking carbonated beverages or alcohol, and smoking can all worsen reflux, as can being overweight and sedentary. In addition, some people find that stress can worsen already-existing reflux symptoms, although scientists have not found a definite link.

When people are under stress, they are more likely to eat poorly, exercise less, drink alcohol, and smoke -- all of which can aggravate GERD, according to gastroenterologist Paulo Pacheco, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, in New York City, and coauthor of Living with Chronic Heartburn: The Complete Health Guide to Acid Reflux and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.

Spicy foods and citrus fruits contribute to the acidic sensation that is common to heartburn. Other foods, such as coffee, peppermints, and chocolate, may cause the esophageal sphincter to slacken and open, allowing stomach acid to flow upward. A family history of reflux may also increase your chances of developing it, although this has not been proved.

Health conditions such as celiac disease (commonly known as wheat intolerance) can trigger reflux. The gas that comes up from the intestine with some wheat-intolerant patients may cause bloating, which pushes stomach acid back up into the esophagus. Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can worsen reflux, either by diminishing lower esophageal sphincter pressure, which prevents the valve from staying closed, or by causing the muscles that line the esophagus to slacken, allowing stomach contents to flow upward. Speak to your doctor, however, before stopping or changing any medication. The major offenders are fever reducers and anti-inflammatory drugs containing ibuprofen or aspirin; calcium channel blockers; theophylline, an ingredient in many asthma medications; tricyclic antidepressants; anti-spasmodics; and sleeping pills containing benzodiazepines.

Continued on page 4:  Tips for Calming Your Gut Reaction


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